REVIEW: Festival first is a sound experience

The Victorian Shrubbery at Brodie Castle is a quiet place. It’s a meandering walk through a loose maze of birch, beech and aspen, punctuated with shrubs and meadow grass.

The sounds you’ll hear there are birdsong, a mild breeze filtered by the greenery, and if you’re really listening, the buzz of pollinators going about their daily business.

But there’s a new sound interrupting the silence in the shrubbery this week.

Sound Horn is the work of Scottish artist Katie Anderson, and let’s be clear from the start this isn’t an interruption at all, it’s a complement.

As I neared the shrubbery, the deep tonal vibe coming from the undergrowth seemed as natural as the flora in which it was situated.

Six metal speaker ‘horns’, planted randomly, or maybe not so randomly, around the sundial that forms the centre of this garden, emit a 12-minute loop of audio.

But there’s no obvious start or stop, you don’t have to wait for one song to end and the next one to begin. And unless you’re there when the artist flicks the switch at the beginning of the day, when the loop starts is anyone’s guess, and that’s the beauty of it. You don’t come here with 12 minutes marked off in your diary, you come here to relax, and forget about the constraints of time. Being outdoors too, means no face coverings are required and you’re able to keep a safe distance from everyone else.

Where do we go from here?

The shrubbery is connected by pathways and rather ironically, as I arrived at a convergence of these, a voice came from the speakers asking ‘Where do we go from here?’ A good question given that I had three potential choices, left, right, or straight ahead. And as I pondered how each would impact on my acoustic enjoyment, the voice repeated itself as if to urge me to make up my mind.

Yet there was no pressure to do so, in fact the sounds were calming, haunting, thought-provoking, sometimes choral.

It also goes much deeper than that. It’s a poignant question for our times, and the seats that are there for silent contemplation can come in handy for pondering the reality of this current conundrum.

I chose not to sit. Instead, I walked in and out of the arrangement from several angles, creating my own dimensions of volume and stereophonic nuances as I wove in and out of the pathways. No two performances of this can ever sound the same, and as I left with the sounds fading into the distance, I realised that this piece has been so carefully engineered that it gave me ‘time to think’ rather than take it away.

For organisers Findhorn Bay Arts, this is the first event of their fourth Findhorn Bay Festival. Typically delivered over six days every two years in September, we are likely to be seeing more cultural experiences happening outdoors and social distanced admissions, while maintaining the drive to ‘make creative things happen’ in unexpected places, but spread out over a longer time frame.

Sound Horn meets all these criteria, and while the parameters have been carefully set to meet current circumstances, it doesn’t impact in any way on the experience. If Findhorn Bay Arts can keep delivering quality events without virus hygiene becoming a distraction, we’re going to be in for a very enjoyable festival year.

MH

Sound Horn is at Brodie Castle till Sunday 23 August. Entry is free anytime between 10am and 4pm, and you can stay as long as you like.

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